Remembering Glee's Cory Monteith
It's been a few days since we learned of Glee star Cory Monteith's death, but I'm still pretty wrecked about the whole thing. No one knows for sure what the cause was (update: autopsy results have confirmed that Monteith died of a "mixed drug toxicity" of heroin and alcohol), and I certainly didn't know Monteith personally, but he seemed like a good guy who tried to overcome issues with substance abuse. The loss is and will continue to be so much greater for his family and friends, but it's certainly been hard not to go through old clips of Glee and get really, really bummed out as a fan.
Like many of you, I've had a complicated relationship with Glee in its four years on the air. I fell hard for the show in the beginning, grew frustrated with it in Season 2, and followed it show from more of a distance in Seasons 3 and 4 so that it couldn't repeatedly break my heart and/or piss me off. However, throughout my roller-coaster experience of watching Glee, Monteith's performance as Finn has been a constant. Despite being handed some problematic material from time to time (along with everyone else in the cast, if we're being fair), Monteith helped Finn become one of the more fully realized characters on the show.
While Rachel and Kurt get to embody what it means to you know that you're a star stuck in a small town, Finn's story has always been more realistic, and oftentimes more interesting. He's the small-town guy with some talent and some dreams, but no plan, or confidence that anything good could happen. Monteith brought him to life, and as a result, Finn defined the show's inner melancholy, something that often stood out amid its typical whiplash-y emotional highs and lows. And from the beginning, we understood who Finn was: He was us in high school, or at least somebody we knew in high school. To bring that kind of relatability to a role that also turns you into a "teen" heartthrob is not easy, but Monteith almost always pulled it off.
Finn's struggle to find himself—as a student, as a son, as a brother-in-law, as a friend, etc.—permeated all of Glee's stories. His relationships with Rachel, Kurt, Mr. Schue, and his mother were some of the show's best, and sheer lunacy aside, Finn's return to McKinley as New Directions coordinator worked because Monteith always knew how to play up Finn's shaky—but effective—leadership. Much like the character he portrayed, Monteith was never the best actor or singer on the show, but he was a damn good stabilizing center. He could do just about anything Glee asked of him—well, except for dance.
Moving forward, it's challenging to even begin to imagine what the heck Glee will do to write Finn out of the show. With situations like this one, we can never totally trust Ryan Murphy and company to do anything sane. He and Ian Brennan could very well come up with an amazing way to pay tribute to Monteith and give Finn the exit he deserves. But it's just as likely that they'll swing for the fences and create something overwrought—or, worst of all, offensive. The show already has a half-baked out with Finn's Season 4 departure for college and as a victim of PTMD (Post Traumatic Murphy Disorder), most of me wishes they'd just let it all go. Yet there's no way that Finn's relationships with the important people in his life will ever come to a satisfying resolution. That's nowhere near the tragedy that Monteith's real-life death is, of course, but for a show that's already on the ropes creatively, losing such a solid rock of humanity is a tragedy, too.
Monteith's Best Glee Performances
But for now, I'd rather not worry about what Murphy may or may not do. Instead, let's just keep remembering all the great performances Cory Monteith brought to Glee in his four years on the show. You'll probably see a lot of lists and slideshows about his best musical performances, and rightfully so; there are some truly wonderful ones (I'm partial to "Jesse's Girl" from "Laryngitis" because duh). But I'd like to focus a little more on Monteith's acting on, which was just as good, if not better, than his vocals. Here are five episodes that he's great in; feel free to share your own in the comments.
"Sectionals" (Season 1, Episode 13): It was clear almost from the jump that keeping Finn in the dark regarding the paternity of Quinn's baby was a stupid choice, but Monteith somehow made it all almost worth it when Finn found out the truth. He also shared a great scene with Matthew Morrison in this episode.
"Duets" (Season 2, Episode 4): I'm kind of cheating here because this is still the best episode of Glee to date, but it was lovely showcase for Monteith and Lea Michele's more playful, comedic chemistry, which was just as electric as their dramatic work.
"Goodbye" (Season 3, Episode 22): If you've seen even a few episodes of Glee, I dare you to watch the final scene between Finn and Rachel at the train station and not tear up. The show went in a lot of stupid directions during its first three seasons, but again, Monteith (and Michele) made it seem like this is what all 60+ installments had been building to, and that all those directions were worth it.
"The Break-Up" (Season 4, Episode 5): The expected, wrenching conclusion to what began in "Goodbye," but expecting Finn and Rachel to split didn't make the event any less moving. Monteith was always great at portraying Finn when he was confused about his future, and never was he more so than here.
"Dynamic Duets" (Season 4, Episode 8): The best episode of the "new" version of the show, with a really solid story for Finn as New Will. The superhero conceit is pure Finn: a little sloppy, goofy as heck, but warm and effective. Almighty Treble Clef y'all!
What are your favorite Cory Monteith Glee moments?
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